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When the going gets tough, the tough ... go shopping!!!

February 17th, 2006 - Bushfires didn't even come close







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Erica residents flee for a shopping spree

Did you see this photo in the Melbourne "Herald-Sun" of January 24, 2006? Many people did, and could be forgiven for having been seriously misled by it. It's from an article that was breathlessly headed "Time to cut and run", and it began as follows:

"BESIEGED Erica residents have fled to safety through the heart of Gippsland's raging bushfires.

A convoy yesterday threaded its way from the smoking mountains to the relative safety of Moe.

Fifteen cars and a bus carried more than 40 people who were desperate to leave Erica before a predicted worsening of conditions tomorrow."

But look closely -- do you see any angry flames licking at that "fleeing" convoy of vehicles, "threading its way from the smoking mountains"? Can you even see any real smoke, beyond the faint haze that most of Victoria endured throughout the bushfire period? If you've ever been near a real bushfire, you'll know that you don't usually get this sort of visibility ...

So ... want to know the real story?

It's far less dramatic, as is often the case with a "beat-up" of this nature, but according to our information, a group of mainly-retired residents of nearby Erica -- which didn't win its "Tidy Town" award some years back by accident -- decided to go shopping in Moe for the day, and even went so far as to hire a bus for the occasion.

So it was a scheduled departure, for a trip that only made sense as a "convoy", followed by a relaxed day's shopping ... and a return home at the end of the day.

The real story

The truth is that the Moondarra fire was a big fire, with a perimeter of several hundred kilometers of fairly rugged bushland to the south-west of Walhalla, that was tackled very capably and professionally by teams of well-organized fire-fighters who -- with the assistance of a favourable break in the weather -- eventually brought it under control. And while it shouldn't be too lightly dismissed, it never actually threatened Walhalla too directly at all.

Burnt forest on the Moe road

As the above picture shows, you'll see signs of where it burnt along the road from Moe, but that was predominantly the direction that it took before the weather changed and provided some relief.

Foul play was suspected, and it certainly inflamed some local passions, if you'll pardon the pun. Just near Thalloo, a few kilometers north of Moe, and the southernmost point where the fire approached the road, you'll see a hand-painted sign that someone has nailed to a burnt tree, saying, "Bring in the death penalty for arsonists!", a popular sentiment just at the moment among a number of locals.

If you know Victoria in summer, you'll know that our worst bushfire weather is usually accompanied by howling northerly winds. To threaten Walhalla (or even Erica), this fire would have needed south-westerlies to push it in that direction, and south-westerlies usually come with rain off the Great Australian Bight, or at least the influence of cooler air from the Antarctic.

It pains us to have to say it again (and again, and again!) but Walhalla remains steadfastly open for visitors. And just to make sure that our meaning is perfectly clear, here are a few pictures of some of Walhalla's landmarks, before and after the fires.

Windsor Lodge
Windsor House (before)

Windsor Lodge
Windsor House (after)

CBD and Star Hotel
Downtown Walhalla (before)

CBD and Star Hotel
Downtown Walhalla (after)

Panning for gold (before)
Panning for gold (before)

Panning for gold (after)
Panning for gold (after)

(Ooops -- sorry about that -- I seems to have mixed up the "before" and "after" images ...).

If the truth be known, Walhalla was prepared for the worst, but with a sound fire plan in place, and known, designated areas for public refuge if it should ever have been required. Fortunately, it never came to that.

In fact, it never even came close.



Walhalla is still very much open for business, and eager to welcome visitors. We look forward to seeing you on your next visit -- why not make it soon?


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Copyright 2006 Walhalla Heritage and Development League Inc